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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Second place — Grad student essay contest: Barbara Alvarez

The bible and abortion legislation

FFRF awarded Barbara $3,000.

Barbara Alvarez

By Barbara Alvarez

Even though we live in a country founded on secularism, interpretations of biblical verses permeate legislative decisions regarding abortion in the United States. Alabama has passed a near ban, and states like Georgia, Missouri and Louisiana have passed “heartbeat bills,” making abortion illegal once a physician detects a fetal heartbeat with no exception for rape or incest. These bans are constructed with pseudoscientific language to mask religious intent. Dr. Ted Anderson, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, stated that the so-called “heartbeat” at the core of this legislation is “actually electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops.”

Indeed, there is no scientific, logical or economical reason to ban abortions or restrict funding to organizations that provide abortions. And yet, politicians invoke biblical text to justify their legislative decisions to do so. One such bible verse is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body.”

This verse exemplifies the abusive relationship between the bible and women’s bodies. To begin with, “you are not your own” justifies the subjugation of women. Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss of Alabama mirrored this when he pontificated that “life is a gift of our creator and we must do everything we can to protect life.” But what about the life of the woman?

According to the bible (and the politicians who credit it), women do not and should not have bodily autonomy because they are in servitude to God and the world.

“You have been bought with a price” quite literally commodifies women’s bodies. In lieu of abortion, pro-natalist proponents encourage women to choose adoption on behalf of wishful parents. A woman’s own physical and mental health, as well as life goals and situations, are irrelevant. Instead, she is an incubator that delivers a product to meet supply and demand.

When available legally and readily, abortion is a simple and safe procedure. When restricted, it causes emotional trauma, physical danger, financial destruction and even death. Parameters such as waiting periods, lack of health insurance, and parental consent reinforce classism by making abortion inaccessible to the most marginalized of women who do not have the resources to take time off of work, travel to remote clinics, and pay for expensive procedures. On the rare occasion when science is referenced to drive anti-abortion laws, it is meant to shame and guilt women with mandated ultrasound tests and unfounded claims such as abortion reversal.

The United States extends this oppressive dogma internationally through the Mexico City policy, commonly known as the global gag rule. Initiated by President Reagan, the global gag rule denies funding to any nongovernmental health care organization that provides, or even mentions, abortion.

The consequences of this biblically inspired legislation are catastrophic and hardly save lives. In fact, the global gag rule does not curb abortions, but rather makes them dangerous. It also reduces funding to organizations that provide HIV tests and treatment, as well as crucial services for sex workers and members of LGBTQ communities. In the name of the bible, the global gag rule has resulted in 20,000 maternal deaths in 29 countries in just one year.

Yet to some conservatives like Rick Santorum and Richard Mourdock, women should “accept what God has given.” Even when resulting from rape or incest, pregnancy “is something that God intended to happen.” Some may argue that these statements are not representative of Christianity. But when a biblical verse says that “you are not your own . . . glorify God in your body,” it is a direct reflection of Christianity.

Legislation should embody science and logic, not religion. A secular nation should not allow biblical verses to infringe on women’s reproductive choices and representatives should not be permitted to cite them in their legislative decisions.

Until that becomes a reality, women’s bodies will never be their own.

Barbara, 30, is from Madison, Wis., and attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is working on a Ph.D. in library and information sciences with a minor in gender and women’s studies. Barbara is the author of the book, Embedded Business Librarianship for the Public Librarian. She received a Master in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois.